Liverpool eventually romped to a 4-1 win over Aston Villa’s courageous youngsters to progress to the fourth round of the FA Cup in a thrilling game of two halves at Villa Park.
Villa’s crop of mostly teenagers put in an inspired display in the first half, but were opened up by the ruthless Reds in the second period as the contest was put firmly to bed.
Sadio Mane scored after just three minutes before 17-year-old Louie Barry equalised in what was a tense 45 minutes. However, Liverpool stepped it up a level in the second half whereas their opponents tired, with goals from Mohamed Salah, Georginio Wijnaldum, and another from Mane, wrapping up the win.
It was a truly extraordinary spectacle with Villa fielding a team made entirely from youth players after an outbreak of coronavirus at the Midlands club.
14 members of their first team, including nine players and five staff members, tested positive for Covid-19 on Thursday, throwing the game into doubt.
But Villa named a starting XI including seven Under-23 and four Under-18 players to ensure the Cup tie went ahead, while Jurgen Klopp opted for a Liverpool side that was close to full strength.
It was a concerning start for the hosts with Mane nodding home Curtis Jones’ cross after just three minutes.
Villa goalkeeper Akos Onodi ensured his side stayed in the game in the first half with a brilliant double save to keep out efforts from Fabinho and Mane.
The Villans finally threatened after 26 minutes, with Kaine Hayden’s lofted cross almost finding Lamare Bogarde at the back post.
And the magic moment arrived for the Midlands side shortly before half-time.
A defence-splitting pass from Villa left-back Callum Rowe put ex-Barcelona youngster Barry through on goal, and the teenager kept his composure to slide the ball calmly past Caoimhin Kelleher.
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson was taken off at half time with midfielder Thiago coming on in his place.
The Reds had the back of the net after 53 minutes through Salah, but Villa ‘keeper Onodi was adjudged to have had his hands on the ball when the Egyptian forward tapped home.
The Premier League champions regained their lead just before the hour mark as Wijnaldum stroked home Takumi Minamino’s cut-back.
Klopp’s side made it 3-1 with Mane grabbing his brace after heading in a looped effort from Xherdan Shaqiri’s cross.
The game began to run away from Villa as began to tire, with Mohamed Salah’s swivel and strike putting Liverpool 4-1 up, which turned out to be an unassailable lead.
The Reds ended the match with 83 per cent possession and 29 shots, but Villa’s young side can hold their heads up high after a gutsy display against one of the world’s best teams.
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